China Arrests Dozens of Prominent Christians
China's Public Security Bureau has launched a new crackdown on unregistered church leaders, arresting 50 or more people following the release of a new video and book, documenting huge growth among Christians outside the officially permitted church.
In mid-February, the China Aid Association confirmed that in January police arrested three prominent Protestant leaders from Henan province, including Qiao Chunling, 41, in Luoyang; Deborah Xu Yongling, 58, in Nanyang; and Zeng Guangbo, 35, in Deng County. Guangbo escaped two days after he was arrested, and remains in hiding.
The crackdown may last for 30 days and began during China's annual National Religious Working Conference. This meeting brings together top leaders of the state Religious Affairs Bureau and the policy-making United Front Work Department. Both are charged with oversight of religion in China.
During that meeting, communist leaders screened a new, four-hour digital video, The Cross: Jesus in China.China Soul for Christ Foundation of Petaluma, California, produced the series and Yuan Zhiming, a pro-democracy leader and a Christian, wrote and directed it.
Communist leaders were also briefed on Jesus in Beijing, a new book by journalist David Aikman, formerly a Time magazine correspondent in Beijing. Both the video and book document the stunning growth and vibrancy of Christianity in China. The video has been classified as "political matter," and Public Security Bureau officers are confiscating CDV copies of the widely distributed series and other Christian literature.
A source based in Hong Kong told CT that the crackdown will focus on "the people mentioned in the video and the book" and may be as brutal as the recent repression of Falun Gong. China's actions against Falun Gong, a traditionalist sect that emphasizes meditation, resulted in many arrests, imprisonments, beatings, and deaths. A New York-based watchdog group reported that 64 Falun Gong practitioners have died after being tortured inside China since November 2003.
"They will especially hunt those in Beijing," the source said. "It took them by surprise that there were so many Christians in China. Every week pastors are arrested and thrown in jail. The communists see Christians as a threat because there are [more] Christians than Party members."
According to experts, estimates of the total number of Christians varies widely from 30 million to 100 million. The government-registered Christian church (Three Self Patriotic Movement) includes about 28 million followers. There may be as many as 80 million Christians in unregistered congregations. According to Operation World, independent Christian congregations, mostly evangelical and charismatic, are growing at a rate of 9 percent annually. That's a huge growth rate since China's overall population (1.3 billion) is growing at about 0.6 percent annually. China's constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief but requires all religious organizations to register with the government. The government brands those groups that do not register as "illegal" or "cults."
Leaders face hardships
According to another source who asked not to be named, Deborah Xu was arrested on Saturday, January 24, in Nanyang, Henan Province. Around 11p.m. Xu was sleeping on the second floor of her niece's home. Two police officers entered the dwelling and locked the niece's mother-in-law in another room. The officers located Xu, handcuffed her, and took her into custody. Police also confiscated photos and documents.